Vulture as Symbol of The Great Mother

We encountered these two magnificent vultures while we were camping out in the middle of no where. They stayed nearby us, perched on these telephone/power lines the entire time we were there, as if they were watching over us. Other than crows, the vulture is my favorite bird. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder why they were there?” I know that vultures can smell impending death three days before something dies…and I didn’t see anything for them to eat. Were they waiting to eat me? What did they know that I didn’t know? Finally, after I had exhausted and ruled out the entire list of illnesses that I could succumb to within three days… I began to think about the inner (spiritual) reasons as to why they were there.

Birds in general often represent psychic intuition and thinking. They are inhabitants of the wind and are thus connected with the Psyche or Soul. Psyche means Soul, and comes from the Greek word psuche, which means breath of Life. A non-canonical saying of Jesus has it: “Ye ask me who will lead you to the kingdom of heaven: the birds of heaven and that which is under the earth and the fishes of the sea—they will lead you to the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” Birds are often messengers and in dreams, telephones often represent psychic communication. Psychic ability is said to be inherited from the mother. As we are all born from Mother Earth—psychic ability is our birthright and our mother tongue. Which is why the vulture is such an interesting and paradoxical messenger.

There is no animal that is so intimately connected with death as the vulture. Vultures are also some of the most devoted mothers in nature; perhaps, it’s her relationship with death that makes her such a Great Mother, and why ancient civilizations revered her as a symbol of The Great Mother. In ancient Egypt, the hieroglyph for “Mother,” “Goddess,” and “Compassion” were all symbolized by the vulture. They believed that all vultures were female, and whenever she yearned for a child, she would turn towards the wind (breath of life) and was impregnated by the pneuma (spirit). This is why vultures were symbolized as the Virgin Mother and as the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth — because by eating the flesh she was transforming death into life. It was said that the vulture was the mother and protector of the pharaoh and of all of humanity. In Egypt, vultures were considered to be so sacred that to kill one was punishable by death. There was a legend that in times of scarcity, the vulture would wound her thigh to allow her young to drink her blood. During the death rituals of the ancient Zoroastrian religion—the deceased were put on top of a tower called, the tower of silence, and they were exposed to the elements for excarnation, and the body was presented as an offering to the vultures. As gruesome as it sounds, offering one’s body to The Great Mother was believed to prevent contamination of the ground and water and prevented the spread of disease. Heralded as mother of humanity, the vulture is death in the service of life and the health of our natural and psychological ecology depends on her protective power.

So, we might ask ourselves what is happening that would necessitate a visitation from The Great Mother in such a paradoxical form, one that combines the love of life and acceptance of death? Perched on her power lines— she speaks volumes. She urges us to become aware of the power of death, its inescapable nature, and its necessary role in our living ecology. There is no possibility of Life without death. It’s curious that I encountered these vultures, symbols of the Great Mother, perched her power lines just a week prior to the overturning of Roe vs Wade. If a mother’s rights to her own body are taken away, then we lose her protective power. Patriarchy takes power from women and uses it as a weapon against life. It is life in the service of death. A mother knows whether or not the environment or the timing is conducive for an incoming soul to incarnate. It isn’t murder to say… it’s not the right time for you to come. What is alive lives and never dies. If we have not experienced our own Immortality opening up within us, then we have not seen death for what it really is— transformation.

Without a numinous encounter with Spirit we will continue to fear death and cling to a concrete perception of life that is over and against death. Without experiencing death as a transformative energy within us, we may be very fearful of our ultimate encounter with death — either we will see death as final and meaningless, or we will surround ourselves with rituals, talismans, or rule following which assure us a place in heaven through their power, rather than through our own transformation.

1. Von Franz, Marie. Introduction to The Interpretation of Fairy Tales

2. Paris, Gina. The Sacrament of Abortion.